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A cure for the common cold? Excuse me while I sneeze.

Fergus Walsh | 17:55 UK time, Tuesday, 2 November 2010

As autumn sets in, and another round of seasonal viruses infects the population, we would all appreciate a cure for the common cold. But despite interesting research from Cambridge, do not expect a breakthrough any time soon.

What scientists at the world-renowned MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology have done is some fascinating fundamental research which appears to change our understanding of how our immune system fights viral diseases like the common cold, winter vomiting bug and gastroenteritis.

But a cure for the common cold? Excuse me while I sneeze.

Up to now it was thought that antibodies worked only outside cells, trying to destroy viruses and prevent them from infecting cells. This new research shows that, with certain viruses, antibodies cling onto them as they invade the cell.

Once inside the cell the antibodies attract the attention of a protein called TRIM21.
This in turn pulls the virus into a disposal system used by the cell to ret rid of unwanted material. This has to be done quickly, before the virus has a chance to hijack the cell to replicate itself. There's an excellent animation which shows the process.

In theory medicines might be developed which enhanced our ability to fight such viruses, but treatments would take many years to develop and test and a cure for the common cold remains a distant dream.

There are around 200 different viruses that cause the cold. In 1946 the MRC set up the Common Cold Unit on the site of a former military hospital in Wiltshire. For four decades researchers studied the effects of cold viruses on human volunteers. In 1988 the Common Cold Centre was established at Cardiff University to conduct clinical trials on new treatments for common cold and flu.

Having had a stinking cold for the past week, I will be waiting with interest to see how long it takes the researchers in Cambridge to transform their research into something of practical use to cold sufferers the world over.


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  • 1. At 6:45pm on 02 Nov 2010, John_from_Hendon wrote:


    "Having had a stinking cold for the past week,"

    But do you take the practical precautions of washing or disinfecting your hands when they have toughed other people or objects used or touched by others? Do you resist toughing your own face, eyes and nose with you own hands before they are washed? Go you get time to get outside and walk or work in the garden?

    Furthermore you might try sleeping in a dryer atmosphere using a dehumidifier in the bedroom now that having the window open is less comfortable as this keeps you secretions from flowing to where they do damage and build up.

    As to treatment: Hot sweetish drinks, aspirin and nasal humidifiers.

    And about all keep away from others whilst you are infectious! Be like the Japanese and wear a disposable mask to prevent infecting others.

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  • 2. At 7:43pm on 02 Nov 2010, cping500 wrote:

    I am sorry that MRC PR chose this line (common cold) on what is a very interesting piece of research. If it turns out that it can be exploited for what medical researchers describe as 'systems (body) wide' treatment of infections it will mark a big step forward.

    There is, strategically, a further interest in this research. It clearly, in the jargon, could have wide 'impact' so I would would like to know how it came about. Was it 'serendipity' like penicillin, or was it part of a 'blue sky's programme' into the immune system.

    Do tell us more Fergus! Don't ask MRC PR ask the Director!

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  • 3. At 10:44pm on 02 Nov 2010, U14671850 wrote:

    Fascinating - whilst I don't have a great understanding of the biology behind viruses, I will welcome with open arms any treatment that gets rid of colds! It has always struck me that in this modern scientific age we are still plagued by colds. I never knew that there were 200 different viruses which cause colds so I have a little more sympathy for the boffins now!

    Think of how many lost man hours will be saved - I have already had 3 colds this year!

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  • 4. At 11:01am on 03 Nov 2010, Megan wrote:

    It's always fascinated me that such a trivial ailment, the common cold, causes so much distress... often more than diseases which are life-threatening. Perhaps it is because a cold affects your head, where the essential 'you' resides, so - just as a toothache is more unbearable than an equivalent pain in a foot - it disturbs you more, because the symptoms are right where 'you' are, not elsewhere in the body.

    However, it would be good to see progress being made in effective treatment of colds... and who knows, insights into more deadlier infections may also be gained.

    Get well soon, Fergus. It's years since I had a cold, but a honey and lemon mix works quite well - or if you are a) brave and b) prepared to listen to a 'cunning woman' try eating a raw onion!

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  • 5. At 1:20pm on 03 Nov 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    the protien in question is part of the human bodys own ECSN and basicly takes the trash out in the infected cells....

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  • 6. At 1:25pm on 03 Nov 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    Having had a stinking cold for the past week, I will be waiting with interest to see how long it takes the researchers in Cambridge to transform their research into something of practical use to cold sufferers the world over.

    it happened fergus

    Just the world aint ready for it yet.....

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  • 7. At 2:51pm on 03 Nov 2010, BobRocket wrote:

    #6 John,

    THC suppresses virus replication.

    In a study on the effects of THC and Methanandamide on the efficacy of Interferon in Hepatitus C sufferers it was noted that viral replication was reduced by up to 60% in samples where only THC had been administered.

    It was also noted that Interferon which normally has an efficacy of ~90% had a reduced effectiveness when given to subjects that already had THC in the blood stream.

    People could take Interferon as a preventative against colds/flu etc. but the contra-indications are not fully understood or they could use THC, the only serious contra-indication of which is a lusting for mars bars.

    A lot of this is only now becoming apparent with the allowance of medical marijuana in places like California.

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  • 8. At 09:38am on 04 Nov 2010, Megan wrote:

    To add remedies for blocked-up noses, I have found 3 to be effective.

    I don't smoke (anything, legal or otherwise) but when in the company of people smoking 'spliffs' I have noticed a clearing of a blocked up nose!

    Legal options are burning frankincense and taking a pinch of menthol snuff.

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  • 9. At 11:43pm on 05 Nov 2010, davidjdonovan wrote:

    One problem: cytokine storms may kill the young and healthy as a side effect once this method becomes a "viable" treatment. Big Bump in their research.

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  • 10. At 5:03pm on 16 Nov 2010, SJWUCL wrote:

    After taking a cursory look at the original research paper quoted in this blog post:

    I have noticed the only claim from the authors for use as a "cure" for the common cold is in assisting vaccine design, a preventative measure one can obtain even now, and not a cure at all!

    Secondly, the mechanism given acts via IgG, which takes the body 1-2 weeks to manufacture for any virus, and as viruses are constantly evolving new coat proteins, this newly discovered mechanism is not going to cure the common cold.

    Im not sure why this blog article is titled "a cure for the common cold", as Mallery et al. have not claimed to have cured it... However, it does show a very interesting piece of research which could prove helpful in the development of better vaccines in the future.


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